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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Sponsors’ Dinner, 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Richmond, Virginia
June 24, 2012

Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games! I'm honored to be here. Let me acknowledge our special guests:

  • Mayor Dwight Jones: It's an honor to have you here. Thank you for welcoming these games back to Richmond, where it all began more than three decades ago.

  • Former Lieutenant Governor John Hagar;

  • Paul Galanti, Commonwealth of Virginia Commissioner of Veterans Affairs;

  • Special thanks to Paralyzed Veterans of America—our long-time partner in these Wheelchair Games. President Bill Lawson, Executive Director, Homer Townsend, the PVA leadership, and your corporate sponsors: You make all this possible. Thank you.

  • Let me also acknowledge our 2,800 dedicated VA volunteers. Because of your assistance, our athletes will get to do amazing things this week. Many thanks for making the time to brighten the lives of others.

  • Dr. Bob Jesse, VA's Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health;

  • Our local VA hosts—Dan Hoffman, Director, VISN 6; Chuck Sepich, Director, Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center; and Alison Faulk, our local organizing chair: Precision counts in most everything, but especially in an event like this one, where there are so many moving parts. Planning and executing these games is no easy task. Many, many thanks to each of you and your staffs for all the hard work and long hours you've put in;

  • Let me recognize Mike Galloucis, Executive Director, VA's Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs; Chris Nowak, Jose Llamas, and rest of the National Sports Programs and Special Events staff for their work in promoting and coordinating these games each year—with special thanks to Dave Tostenrude, Puget Sound Healthcare System, who jumped in to serve as director for these games.

  • And let me salute the dedication and perseverance of our Veteran-athletes, who continue to amaze us all with their toughness and competitive spirit. A special welcome to the team from the United Kingdom, here for their 25th games. I salute the courage and resilience of all these athletes.

  • Finally, to all our corporate, VSO, local, non-profit, and individual sponsors—warmest welcome and heartfelt thanks for your generous support in making these games the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world—17 events, from air rifle and archery, to handcycling, power soccer, and quad rugby—each demonstrating the triumph of human spirit over physical limitation.

This is the third time that I'm addressing this Sponsors' Dinner, and the usual sequence is for me to acknowledge our distinguished guests, which I have just done, and then in about three to five minutes thank all our sponsors, citing a meaty quotation from some long-departed and often unrecalled philosopher.

This year, let me take a couple of more minutes to think out loud with you about what these Wheelchair Games mean. You are all heavily invested in them. And while we call them "games," they are really rehabilitation events—I think you all know that. These activities get these severely and permanently injured Veterans to push their personal envelopes of physical activity in ways other activities do not. In the process, they are invigorated, energized, made more confident, more engaged in year-round physical fitness, and their mental health and overall physical well-being are improved. They live healthier lives and longer ones as well.

To do this one week, these Veterans have to work year-round to maintain some level of conditioning. The number of Veterans in need of care and benefits is increasing, and the complexity of injuries and illnesses has increased as well.

Battlefield medicine has greatly improved, and survival rates are incredible. So the requirements for VA-provided care and benefits are large and growing. Whenever the last combatant returns from Afghanistan, we expect VA's requirements will continue to grow for another decade or more, which brings me to the point of this evening's remarks.

Your investments are incredibly generous and supremely important. We could not do this without the support of everyone in this room. Today, less than one percent of Americans serve in uniform. These athletes are, simply, some of the folks who make us the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In his 1950 acceptance speech, Nobel laureate and great writer William Faulkner of the Southern literary tradition said: "I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."

This week, you will see evidence of all three—compassion, sacrifice, endurance. Veterans who have already sacrificed so much for this country get to demonstrate that the warrior spirit did not dim one iota when they suffered their injuries.

Thank you all for giving these very special men and women this opportunity to prevail. We know there are lots of causes worthy of your support—but your generosity in supporting these Wheelchair Games will ensure that every single participant goes home a winner and with the fire to train for next year's competition.

God bless our Veterans, and may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.